Nowadays, companies must continuously adapt to changing conditions with regard to their supply chain management. However, a lack of available real-time data and responsive planning systems makes this adaptation difficult. The Internet of Things (IoT) offers as lot of optimization potential, particularly through the use of digital twins. While digital twins are counted among the Gartner technology trends in 2019, the basic concept is far from new. Michael Grieves first wrote about it in 2002, at the University of Michigan. The central goal of using digital twins today is to accurately predict and prevent problems before they occur and to plan for the future efficiently.
What is a digital twin anyway?
As the name suggests, a digital twin is a virtual image/software representation of a real product, process, asset or service. For example, a digital visualization of an organ used to simulate an upcoming operation. A digital copy can be used for monitoring and control, as well as for planning and forecasting the outcomes of various scenarios. This makes it possible to understand, predict and optimize performance.
For the digital twin to be truly a twin, all available information/data must be linked one-to-one. In some cases, individual digital twins are connected to each other in order to reproduce and optimize twins of an entire construct.
What are the advantages?
With the help of digital twin technology, companies are not only able to understand their products or processes better, but also to adapt and optimize them according to the associated customer needs. The technology also enables companies to access new business areas and drive innovation forward. For example, the brazil-based tractor manufacturer Stara uses digital twins of their tractors to modernize farming. Using the available data, it launched a profitable new service that provides farmers with real-time insight detailing the optimal conditions for planting crops and improving farm yield.
Real-time data transmission not only reduces the risk of failure, but also minimizes maintenance costs. In combination with intelligent algorithms, digital twins detect faults and impending maintenance work in advance. Through continuous monitoring and real-time planning companies can assess all their decision-making possibilities and avoid imminent disruptions in the supply chain.
In general, this can reduce operating costs and extend the lifespan of equipment and facilities. Equipment that lasts longer automatically reduces investment costs in new machinery. For instance, a fleet manager can use multiple digital twins to monitor the location of hundreds of trucks and their current mechanical fitness, speed or fuel consumption and, if possible, intervene promptly. Situational awareness and reaction speed are significantly improved.
How do digital twins work and where can they be used?
Digital twins act as a bridge between the physical and digital world. With the help of intelligent sensors integrated into physical elements, all necessary data can be captured and transmitted. In conjunction with relevant business data, this data is then analyzed and, in the best case scenario, can uncover opportunities that may otherwise have gone undetected.
NASA has been using digital twins for many years. This is mainly because the systems it needs to monitor are located at an unattainable distance. The rescue operation of Apollo 13 or the Mars Rover Curiosity mission are famous examples for the use and associated benefits of digital twins.
John Vickers, NASA’s leading manufacturing expert and manager of the NASA National Center for Advanced Manufacturing, describes NASA’S vision to be able to create, test and build their equipment in a virtual world in the future.
Installing IoT sensors can not only help the company itself, but also increase the efficiency of its supply chain partners and prevent possible disruptions. But where can digital twins be used in practice? Practically everywhere: You can recognize existing customer requirements, simulate the effects of corresponding trends and thus obtain a comprehensive view of the broad spectrum of customers. In production, current state analyses can be carried out, adjustments can be made if necessary and untapped potential can be identified. In logistics, digital twins can be used to optimize stocks and to track and monitor them through geolocation. Digital twins enable companies to meet their supply chain partners’ requirements to the best of their abilities .
What does the future look like?
Forbes describes the current state of digital twin technology as the threshold to a digital explosion in which significantly more companies will develop and introduce their own digital twins in the future based on success stories of others. The number of digital representatives of physical objects is estimated to be in the billions, which simultaneously opens up the opportunity for cooperation between product experts and data scientists. Gartner predicts that by 2021, half of the major industrial companies will be using digital twins, resulting in an average efficiency increase of 10%.
In addition, experts predict that future developments will be much more likely to involve the combination of individual twins than at present. The fact that the use of digital twins can open up new business fields and models arouses curiosity about the unknown potential of innovative solutions in the future.